Coal-fired power capacity saw an increase in 2022, despite worldwide vows to reduce dependence on the primary source of climate-warming emissions, according to a new study. The coal fleet witnessed a 19.5-gigawatt growth last year, capable of providing electricity to nearly 15 million homes, primarily driven by China’s new coal initiatives, as reported by Global Energy Monitor. This 1% increment comes at a time when the global coal fleet should be diminishing 4.5 times faster in order to reach climate change objectives.
Flora Champenois, the study’s project manager for GEM’s Global Coal Plant Tracker and lead author, mentioned, “As more coal projects enter the market, future mitigation measures and commitments will need to be even more aggressive.” A total of 14 countries added new coal facilities, while eight announced forthcoming projects. China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Zimbabwe not only implemented new plants but also declared new initiatives. China dominated new coal project announcements with 92%, while also incorporating 26.8 gigawatts, and India integrated about 3.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity into their power grids.
In addition, China greenlit close to 100 gigawatts of upcoming coal power projects, with construction expected to start this year. However, Shantanu Srivastava, an energy analyst, asserted that “the long-term direction remains focused on clean energy.” He linked temporary shifts toward fossil fuels in certain countries to the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine. Europe registered a marginal increase in coal consumption, driven by the quest for alternative energy sources in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and droughts impacting hydropower production.
On the other hand, the United States experienced a notable decrease in coal power, with 13.5 gigawatts retired. The US is one of 17 countries that closed facilities in the past year. With nearly 2,500 plants globally, coal makes up around one-third of the total energy installations. The rest consists of other fossil fuels, nuclear power, and renewable energy. The International Energy Agency states that, to achieve the climate goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, developed countries must retire their coal plants by 2030, while developing nations should do so by 2040. This entails retiring about 117 gigawatts of coal per year, but only 26 gigawatts were retired in 2022.
Champenois cautioned that “the current pace of transitioning from existing and new coal plants is insufficient to prevent climate turmoil.” Srivastava emphasized the importance of not neglecting the millions of workers in the coal and other polluting sectors during the clean energy transition, although the task becomes more challenging as additional coal projects are launched. He stressed, “Each day that the transition to clean energy is delayed not only hinders the attainment of climate goals but also raises the cost of the transition.”